Saturday, May 19, 2012

Naptime Shopping

We had a productive Saturday morning by bike.  First, Alton and I were off to a little meet 'n greet for his preschool class for next year.  He will still know at least half of the kids in his class, including one of his best little buddies.
After a fun hour or so of rare weekend playtime at school, Alton came home for a small lunch and naptime. Andy had some work to do in the garage (bike projects, what else?), and so we removed the child seat from the back of my Xtracycle Radish for a little mommy-only errand time.  Not having the weight of the seat + child in the back feels so zippy and light to me now! I had actually been planning on taking one of my smaller bikes for this trip, but one of the things I wanted to accomplish was purchasing a baby shower gift, and when I checked their online baby registry ahead of time, I had my eye on a pink baby bathtub, so Xtracycle it is....
Onward to Safeway, where I had a hankering for Mexican meal fixings: beans, avocados, sour cream and sauce for guacamole, and margarita mix. I even stashed a bag of tortilla chips in my handlebar basket to keep them from being squished by the other groceries!
My last stop was at Home Depot, where I picked up a few paint samples for a room we're painting, and a soda for Daddy's caffeine fix. I snapped these items sitting on the deck, but there was still plenty of room in my "Freeloader" side bags for these things along with the baby shower gift, purse, and groceries.  All three of my stops were within 1 mile of our house, which just goes to show that you don't necessarily have to live in an urban environment to make biking work for your myriad family errands. I get wistful sometimes of reading family cycling blogs of folks with dining and shops that are a small handful of blocks down the street, and wish that I had more businesses close to our house to patronize. BUT I have more at my fingertips than I think.
Home and parked, so that Andy can go help Fabi and family start moving into their new house: by bike, of course! He conducted an experiment with our Bakfiets, where he removed the wooden cargo box in exchange for a bolted-down plywood deck, ready to move large and awkwardly-sized items. He even screwed in eye-bolts for bungee tiedown points. He's excited to participate in his first move by bike, even if so far he is the only cycling participant in this move!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bike Thru Dining!

After a morning of working as parent teacher in Alton's preschool classroom, I was wiped out! I helped little kiddos with their cardmaking art projects, worked to move furniture and transform the classroom into a temporary dining room, and participated in the "Spring Tea," a sort-of May Day celebration for the students and their families, which also occurred just before Mother's Day, a perfect occasion to give out those little cards they made.  Parent teachers are also responsible for cleaning the classroom afterward, so once my turn at the broom & mop were finished and Alton had gobbled down his lunch all the while, it was time to head home for my own midday meal and his nap. The lure of authentic Mexican food on my way home was too much for me to resist, and so I decided to see if one of my favorite little local joints would humor me if I rode up to the drive-thru window on my bike.  The attendant smiled and had no problem with it!  Got my burrito to go, stowed it, and headed for home, without having to do the unbuckling shenanigans with Alton and his little seat. Awesome.

Fourteen Miles of Errands

Sometimes when I am driving in my car, I look down at the Tripometer and think, "How have I driven 50 miles in just a couple of days?"  I get gas, re-start to 0.0, and spend a few days toodling around town doing rainy-day preschool runs, drop something off at a friend's house on the way home, take the dog to the vet, grab a few groceries. Maybe I even think that I'm not using my car that much, but before I know it those miles really add up. With a lot of our extended family living out of state and my twice-weekly classes at school too far and too inconvenient by public transit, having at least one car is still a necessary luxury for our family. But with spring/summer weather looming, I am trying to make a better commitment to ride my bike for shorter trips (under 10 miles) outside of my school nights. Even if it's raining. I also think that when I run errands by bike, I am much more efficient about planning where and when I go, and don't make all those little extra side trips that add up to dozens of miles in just a few days.
So with my <10mi goal in mind, Alton and I set out yesterday to take care of a few things. The forecast was for warm temps and sun all week, so we really couldn't expect better riding weather in the Pacific Northwest in early May. On my trusty Xtracycle, we loaded up snacks and water bottles, plus grocery store bags, and were set to go. I opened our garage and saw that gusty winds were blowing some grey clouds to and fro up in the sky, covering the sun from time to time and stealing its warmth. I asked my shorts-and-tee-clad son if he wanted a sweatshirt, and tossed one into my bag even after he answered in the negative. Sure enough, once we wheeled out of the garage he decided that not only did he want a sweatshirt, he wanted pants, too. I threw his rain pants on over his shorts, which serve to block a lot of wind even if they aren't super-cozily lined, and we were off. Except that I didn't grab a sweatshirt for me, brr!  I thought that once I started riding and exerting myself I would warm up and find a sweatshirt too hot, but instead it took a mile or two for my body heat to penetrate the layer of goosebumps on my arms.
First stop: haircut for Alton. We rode to a kids-only hair salon in an outdoor promenade of shops about 7 miles away, which seems like an extravagant distance, but I found that stylists who work exclusively on kids REALLY know how to work on kids, and I love his cut from our favorite stylist every single time. Plus I'm getting a workout on that ride! We parked at the bike racks next to REI (looking longingly in their windows, but we were on a mission and already buy too much stuff there...) and I snapped a fun "before" pic of Mr. CrazyHair.
Another perk of the children's salon is fun "chairs" in the shape of airplanes or fire trucks, and flatscreens all over showing nice, distracting kids' movies to absorb the little ones.
Next stop: after his cut, we rode around the corner to meet Daddy for lunch! A nice mid-week treat, and one we don't do often enough.
Last Stop: waving good-bye to Daddy after lunch, Alton and I carried on to the grocery store, and left with full rear bike bags and a cookie for the road for Alton.
We were finally on our way home when I turned a corner and had to brake suddenly for a mother duck and her 10 ducklings in the middle of the road! Mother duck was determined to cross Minter Bridge Road, a wide & busy street, so I waved my arms to stop the oncoming cars for her to pass safely. Alton and I then crossed on our own to follow them and watch--she was getting somewhere by scurrying from bush to bush across people's front yards and driveways. What a touching sight to witness, and one that would not have been as accessible in a car.
Make way for Ducklings! (One of our favorite books.)
And thus ends a successful day by bike. We got fresh air and exercise (even though Alton wasn't pedaling, I think that we do still walk a bit more when we go places on the bike than when we go in the car), finished a few regular boring 'ol errands in a fun way, and communed with wild animals.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Kid Swap by Bike

During the day, I am a stay-at-home parent to our four-year-old son, Alton. He attends preschool two days a week, and it's a co-op organization, which means that his school runs with the assistance of parent volunteers, including some aide/teaching time in the classroom. We have some good friends (including bikey friends!) who also attend this school, and on their teaching days sometimes our friends need help with securing babysitting for the preschoolers' younger siblings. As Alton is my only child, I try to help out my pals whenever I can.
Today was just such a day. Since my friend and blog co-author Fabi was working in the classroom, I agreed to watch her 1 1/2-year-old son, Matthew, for the morning.  The morning was still forecasted to be flooded with gorgeous sun, so we arranged a bike pick-up/drop-off with our kiddos this morning!
First, Alton and I departed on our normal preschool commute. I often take the Xtracycle Radish on this trip; it's my two-wheeled "station wagon." Plenty of room to cram purse, kiddo rain boots, lunch box, and show-and-tell treasures in the Freeloader bags, plus it's always loaded and ready to go with stuff like tissues, sunscreen, bike lock, raincover, napping pillow, books, etc. This morning Alton had a sorta small breakfast, but with our departure time looming there was no more time to eat. I filled a snack cup with Cheerios, then used one of my homemade snack tethers (another item I keep on the Radish at all times) to secure his cup to his straps for a breakfast supplement on the go! As we rode through the library parking lot with its adjacent park (picture below), it was really hard not to just forget about school and hop on the swings.
But we had to keep going, because we had friends waiting for us! We arrived at preschool to see Fabi waiting with her Surly Big Dummy, a beefy longtail bike upon which she has TWO child seats installed. Her preschooler, Dani, was up front, with my babysitting charge Matthew in the back. Plus snacks for the school class, a load of clean laundry (parents pitch in on the school's laundry duties, too), and a laundry basket bungee'd to the back of the bike. What a load! She poses proudly below with her bike and children on the right, Alton still buckled into my Xtracycle Radish on the left.
 After we got the big kids signed in to school, Matthew and I said our good-byes and I got him settled onto my Xtracycle to head home for the rest of the morning. Kid swap by bike! (Ignore his dubious expression; I'm a nice babysitter, even if Matthew frowns at me during picture-taking.)
Cracker in hand and this little guy is ready to go!
A few hours later, Fabi loads up big sis and Alton on her two child seats and pedals them to my house from the school. They head into the garage to get all their belongings out and pick up Matthew. "Carpooling" by bike--what's next?!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Father & Son Balance Bikes

Tonight while I was in one of my classes for massage therapy school, I checked my email on a break and received this picture from Andy.
A father & son balance bike outing while Mommy is at school. With all the beautiful sunny weather we've had today, my two guys were playing around outside in the evening after I left the house to go to class. While Alton was drawing on the driveway with chalk, Andy was installing wheels on Big Red.
What's going on with "Big Red," you ask? This bike started out life as a diamond-frame mountain bike about twenty years ago, and although Andy "xtracycled" it, gave it a few new items like cables, chain, and brake pads, good 'ol Big Red still needed a little TLC, and while we're at it, a little sprucing up. High on Andy's wish list after the tax refund arrived was a paint job for this bike that would allow it to really live up to its name. A trip out to Clackamas County to an industrial powdercoating garage later, Big Red looks brand-new. Andy hung a heavy-duty hook from our garage ceiling to act as a makeshift bike stand, and has been spending weekend mornings and occasional afternoons adding a new bottom bracket, re-installing the handlebars and saddle, and today adding the wheels.
After Andy had his new wheels and tires ready and spinning on Big Red this evening, he cruised up and down the sidewalk a little, using his feet to paddle the bike along since it does not yet have cranks, pedals, a chain, or was essentially a giant balance bike! Realizing this, Andy asked Alton if he'd like to hop aboard his Skuut balance bike for a trip around the block to our little neighborhood park. So they were striding along together, aww!

Picnic by Bike

Home from our camping trip, Alton and I dutifully unpacked our gear and made a start on some laundry, but then the sun was too bright not to take advantage of it. We threw together a lunchbox filled with camping leftovers like dried fruit and string cheese (plus crackers and chevre--how cool is it that my kid eats goat cheese?), then pedaled on the Xtracycle Radish to the big city park that's only one mile away. Some munching in the shade of a tree for our picnic, then some running in the grass and swings, and it was a quick ride back home to get this tired little camper down for his nap and see if he can catch up on sleep from our busy weekend. I wish this weather were here to stay, but I remember a very wet June here in Oregon last year....
And yes, I do think he is sticking out his tongue.

Bike Camping by Brompton!

Over this past weekend (Cinco de Mayo, by the calendar) we put our Brompton folding bicycles to the test on a bike camping trip. Although this was not our first time camping by bike, we were using this excursion as a trial run for a future trip. Later in the summer, we'll be attending a wedding in sunny Southern California. We decided to double the function of our plane tickets by making a little family vacation out of the trip as well. And what better way to cruise around a cool beach town campground than on two wheels? When we bought our Bromptons, part of the selling factor of these over other, slightly more inexpensive folding bikes was that the fold on these bikes (and the tire diameter) was so compact that they can fit in an airplane's overhead bin.  So when we venture down the coast, we'll take our camping gear and bikes on the plane (some carried on, some checked luggage) and be ready to head off on our beach camping adventure after we wish our newly-married friends well. (I guess we'll have to Fedex our fancy wedding clothes instead of wadding them up in camping packs...).
So to ready ourselves and make sure that we knew how to configure our gear, what to get, and what to dump, we got organized for a little local weekend camping trip. The weather forecasts were promising scattered showers on Friday, our departure day, but lovely sun for the rest of the weekend. I'll jump ahead of myself a bit by telling you that our full day at camp, Saturday, was another day of mixed rain, downpours, chilly temps, and pretty much no sun.  In the end, it was lucky for us that it was raining when we were ready to leave the house on Friday afternoon, because we took bulkier, waterproof jackets, rain pants, and mittens that we really ended up needing on this mostly-chilly trip.
After assembling all our necessities on the floor of the living room and packing the night before, we balanced and tethered everything on the bikes for the first time. Unlike our "everything but the kitchen sink" bike camping experience from last year, where I felt a significant wobble on the Xtracycle once I'd gotten it packed, the Bromptons were easy and smooth on our first few pedal strokes up and down the block.  Our stowing configuration is modeled on that of the Path Less Pedaled, a bike-touring duo who evolved their traveling experience into well-oiled machinations on their Brommies. (If you are interested in traveling/camping by bike, I highly recommend perusing their site--they also include a really comprehensive list of the gear they carry.) As you can see in the picture below, my bike is equipped with a frame-mounted bag on the front of the bike, a Brompton Touring Bag (T-bag, as they affectionately call it) with 30L of cargo space and high-visibility yellow rain cover.  Resting on the rack over the rear wheel is a 45L backpacker's pack, hooked to a plastic tube mounted underneath my saddle and tethered in various places to the bike and seatpost to make it stable (also covered with big black raincover).  Andy's bike has the same setup, except that he also has the "Tyke Toter" seat + homemade support system in front of his saddle for Alton to sit on. Not too shabby for a family of three!
We forgot to take pictures at home before we left; we were so excited to depart. I was glad when our first stop was to get cash at a shopping center 1mi from the house, so that we could document our success out on the road.  Below, Andy and Alton show you their version of a drive-up ATM.
After weaving through some showers out in farm country, we arrived in the small town of Banks, Ore., for a quick grocery store stop for some fortifying chocolate milk...
 ...and to begin our journey on the lovely, protected Banks-Vernonia Trail.

We saw a few nice patches of sun as we stopped occasionally on the trail to take a break and stretch our legs.
Alton would immediately go find a stick to whack the nearby weeds and pavement.
The 10 miles of the B-V trail from the origination of the trail to Stub Stewart State Park are mostly uphill, which we didn't know about ahead of our bike trip last year. This year, we were armed with knowledge, less stuff, and lighter bikes, and I think we felt much better and took far less time to climb to our campground. Even so, we occasionally utilized the scattered picnic tables or wooden benches on the side of the trail to take a little breather.
Sometimes it felt like most of my journey was spent taking Alton's mittens on and off. We'd stop, he'd get warm or want to pick up sticks, and take them off. Then we'd start riding again (Alton insisting that he did not want those mittens back on) and after a little while he'd get cold and start shivering, his hands turning red and white with the chill.
At last, far later than we'd intended (of course), we arrived at our campsite. On this patchy, rainy day, the only other hardy spring campers we saw were in RVs; not only were we the only bike campers in our campground loop, we were the only ones in a tent! Below, we lean the bikes against the tables to take our triumphant picture: we made it.
We quickly unleashed an explosion of gear from our bikes and packs, Andy got the fire started and tent set up, and we started making beds ready and stowing stuff.
We scarfed down a dinner consisting of the same main menu items as last year: chicken apple sausages (the fully-cooked kind) and bread. For the first night at camp, we've found that it's better if our food requires very little prep and utensils, and no stove setup. After a long ride to get there, trying to grab a hot shower and getting our sleeping quarters ready, dinner really needs to be simple. With the fully-cooked sausages, we can toss them over our toasty campfire, or eat them cold out of the package if we have to. Fresh bread is a real carbo-loading treat that we demolish our first night at camp with no problem, so we don't have to worry about keeping it from going stale.
A few sausages, string cheese, and hot shower in a cold cubicle later, we had everything under cover again and were ready for bed.
The Bromptons all folded in the vestibule of the tent--I wondered whether any fellow campers who did not see us arrive would think that we had been dropped off here with our tent, since there was no vehicle at our site!
Below is the view from the inside of the tent, all zipped up. The foot of my sleeping bag is just visible at the bottom of the picture. It's a four-person backpacker's tent; a great fit for three people, gear, and sometimes our dog.
Cold!! The mountain temps, especially overnight, were much more chilly than we were expecting from the online weather reports. We were really glad that when we purchased our lightweight mummy bags, we opted for a lower temperature rating (20 degrees) than our other roomy summer sleeping bags. I would have thrown some long johns into the bag if I'd known how cold I would feel!
The next morning, we bundled up in jackets and wool socks (glad I brought three pairs of those--I never took them off) and got our breakfast ready: hard-boiled eggs we pre-cooked at home, and a nice hot pot of oatmeal, plus coffee for me.
After breakfast, we got dishes cleaned up and our stuff all ready for a little day hike. Stub Stewart state park has a great network of trails of all ability levels, so with our minds on an easy family trek, Andy and I conceived a little woodland scavenger hunt for Alton.
I drew each item in with colored pencils, then Andy laminated it and brought along a china marker for Alton to cross off each square once he found that thing. Alton was enthralled and could not WAIT to begin his search!

We set off down the muddy path.
I showed him how to cross things off as he found each one.
He poses with one found object: "A tree smaller than Alton."

We got some binoculars into the mix.
"A tree too big to hug"!

He got so tired out, he was trudging along with his fingers in his mouth.
Eventually, we made it back to the campsite for a small lunch and Alton's naptime. While I was in the tent studying and Alton was (supposed to be) napping, Andy went on a long hike of his own, and made it to the highest elevation point in the park.
Alton caught a second wind and couldn't get settled down to sleep in his bag, so we pulled out the play-doh for a rainy afternoon activity.
Later in the evening during dinner prep, the chalk came out and Alton decorated the curbs of our gravelly campsite. For some reason, he wrote his name as a mirror image on one of the surfaces. We were impressed with its accuracy!
Another cold night, and then it was Sunday and time to go back home. Breakfast redux of eggs and oatmeal, then pulling everything out of the tent to re-pack into the backpacks and bikes. And of course, now it's a beautiful, warm, sunny day.

Packed and ready to go.
Just like last year, we were rewarded for Friday's long, steady climb into the state park with a swift descent down the trail. About 7 miles of it is downhill cruising, which we broke only once when I hit a bump and my water bottle popped out of my bag! (It's dented like crazy now.) Then another few miles of pedaling to the trailhead, where we used the restrooms and reclined in the sun for a few minutes with snacks.

Our unusual configuration drew some questions and admiration from fellow cyclists out to enjoy a day of riding the sunny trail. We talked for awhile with a couple in their 60s who were setting out on recumbent bikes to ride a metric century! (100k, about 66mi!)
Heading home on the country roads, we wondered if the nice weather would mean more motor vehicle traffic, but it didn't. We really enjoyed the route between Hillsboro and Banks on the little-used byways both times we've done this trip.
This is what Andy and Alton look like when they are riding. Andy told me that Alton called out, "Hi!" to pretty much every person we passed, and he got plenty of smiles in return.
Here I am in motion on my aqua-colored Brommie. I'll take a sunny, quiet ride like this any day!
Andy cautiously commented on what great time we were making. I agreed, saying that I hadn't wanted to vocalize it because I was afraid it would jinx us. We were all set to make it home in only about two hours (as opposed to about 4 hours on the first trip, with stops), and then...flat!
We were only about 3mi from home when city gutter debris reared its ugly head and punctured Andy's tire when he rode through a lake of shattered glass in the bike lane. We hopped up onto the sidewalk so that he could perform his bike emergency room maneuvers. He replaced the whole tube rather than patch the hole to expedite the repair time, since we were so close to home and unlikely to need that spare tube anywhere else. Since Bromptons have a rear internal hub, there are no nice quick-release levers on the wheel axles, and making a patch on your tube either involves doing the work with the wheel still on the bike, or using wrenches to remove the whole rear wheel. Andy "pulled it off" without a hitch! (And he actually said he was a small bit glad that it happened, because he had carried his wrench set and spare tube around the whole weekend thus far without having a need to use them. I guess they weren't just deadweight after all.)

With the tube change delay behind us and our bellies rumbling, we decided to stop for a late lunch before going home. We hit our local easy family favorite: the Red Robin about 1mi from our house. The sunny day meant that we could eat out on the patio with our loaded-down bikes leaned up against the small fence nearby. We scarfed down hot food and too many fries, then headed back home to collapse in a heap of sweaty selves and campfire-scented gear. Can't wait to do it all again!
And special thanks to our friends, the Lee family, for watching our dog Minerva all weekend for us. A 50-lb dog on the folding bikes would have been a challenge, to say the least!